What is the difference between Kickboxing and Muay Thai?

In the last twenty years, the distinction between Kickboxing and Muay Thai have blurred with the proliferation of sanctioning organizations, sponsored sporting events, and fighting rule sets. Previously, I described the origins of Kickboxing and Muay Thai. These are fighting sports that appear very similar to the uninformed or novice. I’ll discuss what is the main difference and then similarities between these two sporting arts.

Both martial arts produce outstanding fighters because the practitioners punch and kick at full-power. They employ fakes and feints to a live opponent who is actively avoiding hits and reading feints. They highlight training and conditioning are very important in fighting ability. These bouts are the closest one can get to an actual combat or self-defense situation.

The conditioning of the fighters is vital. A fighter with a lack of cardio will gas out or fail in the bout. If the fighter is not good at strategies, the fighter will get hit hard in the face. If the fighter has bad footwork, the fighter will trip herself up and not have adequate power in strikes. Physical fitness is crucial to being an impressive combatant.

Differences Between Kickboxing and Muay Thai

 Kickboxing Muay Thai
A varied number of rounds and time of rounds Five three-minute rounds
Sweeps and takedowns are not allowed Sweeps are allowed
Elbows and knee strikes are not allowed Elbow and knee strikes allowed
The referee breaks up clinches Clinch is allowed
A mixture of Western Boxing and Asian martial arts Developed from Thai culture and Thai warrior history
Wear pants or shorts Wear shorts to fight
Fighters are from different arts like Karate, Tae Kwon Do, and Kenpo Fighters all study Muay Thai
Fighters wear boxing gloves and foot gloves Fighters wear gloves only, wraps on feet

Similarities Between Kickboxing and Muay Thai

  • Cardio conditioning, strength training, bag work, and mitt-glove work are essential to prepare for bouts
  • Full contact so fighters can get knocked out, bloody cuts, bruises, cracked/broken bones
  • They are both sporting events with sponsors, lights, and an audience
  • Fights occur in a raised ring
  • Both use rounds to track the bout. There are time limits and other rules
  • Sanctioned fighters compete and have rankings within the sanctioning organization
  • The sanctioning organization sets the rules for the bout

Tired of the same old Zumba or Cardio Dance?

Kickboxing fighters must have excellent physical fitness. This aspect of art is something everyday people can enjoy. The practice of Kickboxing to music is cardio-intensive, intense strength building, and sweat-inducing. When combined with the heavy bag, padded mitt work, and shield striking, the fitness student can get the same great results all while having fun.

I’m a registered Cardio Karate Kickboxing instructor and led classes for students interested in something new and different. We drill fighting combinations to music, get good at striking flow, and kicking power. The workouts are tough. We get sweaty, and our muscles are sore. After a few months, you’ll notice a difference in your body and how your clothes fit. The best part of this cardio fitness program is you learn real punching and kicking, usable in self-defense. However, you’ll still need to learn self-defense techniques, but you’ll have the power punch to back up the move.

Conclusion: The Two Arts are Un-identical Twins

What used to be an apparent distinction between Kickboxing and Muay Thai has muddled over the years. For example, many fighters compete in both types of matches (Kickboxing and Muay Thai), thereby confusing the distinction further. The arts appear to be the same to the casual observer. While both Kickboxing and Muay Thai are separate, distinct arts, they share a considerable amount of features characteristics that make them similar sports. Another issue with the confusion is the advent of Mixed Martial Arts fighting, which combines Kickboxing, Muay Thai, Jui-Jitsu, and Shoot Wrestling.

Martial arts styles are training styles with unique customs and fighting strategies. A student finds and studies arts that suit them. (link to choosing a martial arts style for you) Martial arts styles like Kickboxing and Muay Thai appeal to different people. Don’t think of differences or characteristics as making one style better than another. The martial art makes the fighter effective for that martial art’s focus or specialty. I suggest finding a style that you will enjoy because getting proficient takes a lot of time and effort.

I hope this helps you understand these two amazing fighting styles. If you are interested, consider finding an instructor near you.

What is Kickboxing

The art and sport of Kickboxing began in 1970 with the exhibition bout featuring Joe Lewis. Lewis was a Black Belt in traditional Karate and a student of Bruce Lee. He grew frustrated with point-fighting. Lewis felt point-fighting didn’t reflect a real fight, so he proposed a full contact bout using a karate and western boxing blend where a fighter could get knocked out.[1]

‟Lewis faced Kenpo stylist Greg ‛Om’ Baines… Lewis won the fight by knockout in the second round.[2]” At this exhibition full-contact bout, the announcers coined the term Kickboxing. Joe Lewis went on to defend his title ten times. The rules for fighting were still embryonically lacking weight classes, and most fights continued until only one boxer remained standing.

The sport continued to refine with the formation of two sanctioning bodies, the Professional Karate Association (PKA) and of the World Kickboxing Association (WKA). These two bodies developed a ranking system and sanctioned bouts worldwide. Several other organizations have come and gone since the mid-70s. The fighters also improved their art by including western boxing techniques and better physical stamina training.[3]

Kickboxing blending with Muay Thai during the 80s, eventually branching into the Mixed Martial Arts sport fighting. There are still Kickboxing bouts, but the field of options has expanded into various forms and governing associations. The most popular one is the UFC.

Legendary Kickboxing Fighters

A few of the early fighters became legends in the sport. Here is a brief list of the most popular and my favorite.

Joe Lewis

Joe Lewis was a Marine and former high school wrestler who studied Shorin-Ryu Karate in Okinawa between 1954-1955. Lewis earned his Black Belt in seven months. After his return to the United States, he entered many point sparring tournaments taking first place in many bouts. Through his continued training with various instructors and his experience in the ring, Lewis developed an influential full-contact fighting art.[5] His art continues through his website Joe Lewis Fighting System. If you are interested in learning his system, join their online training and access to regional seminars.

Bill ‛Superfoot’ Wallace

Bill Wallace is an Airman who studied Shorin-Ryu in 1967. Wallace began to enter point-fighting tournaments and achieved some success. He switched to full-contact fighting with the PKA and dominated the middleweight division. Wallace acquired his moniker Superfoot because of his swift left foot, notably the round-house kick and hook-kick.[6] After retiring from Kickboxing, Wallace began teaching seminars across the country. These seminars were very popular, leading Wallace to produce instructional videos with Panther Productions. I was fortunate enough to attend one of Bill Wallace’s seminar. If you want to learn more about Wallace’s fighting system, visit his website, and join the classes.

Jeff Smith

Jeff Smith is a Tae Kwon Do artist (taught by Jhun Rhee) who is a seven-time PKA World Champion. He is now a 10th-degree Grand Master and teaches at his Tae Kwon Do school in Virginia.[7] During his fighting career, Smith defeated many of the famous fighters in the era. His most memorable bout was the lead-in match for the worldwide broadcast of the 1975 ‛Thrilla in Manila’ featuring Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier.[8] Learn more about Smith at his website.

John Natividad

John Natividad is a champion fighter who fought on the Chuck Norris team. Natividad earned the moniker Giant Killer by defeating the top 5 National ranked competitors. His most famous bout was with Benny Urquidez, which Natividad won in overtime 13-12.[9] Natividad is now a 10th-degree Black Belt in Chuck Norris’ United Fighting Arts Federation. Learn more about Natividad and his school.

Grandmasters Natividad, Olivier, Wilson, and Gabriel

The early 1970s brought about an interest in full-contact Karate in the form of Kickboxing. This testing of martial arts skills in a real fight has led to many innovative changes and a flood of modified styles. With the influence of Bruce Lee and Kajukenbo, martial arts began to move towards realistic versus traditional evaluation of their effectiveness. And this progression percolated in the 1990s with the advent of thoroughly mixed martial arts, full-contact fights.

[1] Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kickboxing

[2] Ibid.

[3] ATA Kick, https://atakick.com/the-history-of-kickboxing/

[4] Prokick, http://archive.prokick.com/kickboxing/article/history-of-kickboxing/

[5] Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joe_Lewis_(martial_artist)

[6] Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_Wallace_(martial_artist)

[7] Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeff_Smith_(martial_arts)

[8] IKF, http://ikfkickboxing.com/JeffSmith.htm

[9] John Natividad, https://www.johnnatividad.com/